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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview with Frederic Aknin, Sparkeo: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Welcome to an interview with Frederic Aknin, CEO of Sparkeo, a new video platform designed to enable more flexible uses of video with e-learning.

1. What is your name, your affiliation, and your history with e-learning?

My name is Frederic Aknin, I am an internet addict and a passionate continuous learner. I believe in the power of the Internet to broadcast knowledge, fertilize ideas, and bring the means to people to excel and make the most of themselves.

I know the basics in elearning. I am a user of YouTube which I used to discover extremely good content and a total TED freak.

I believe online learning is at its dawn and that it should expand. I see several very important trends:

· The need for simple video monetization to enable people to sell their premium knowledge on the Web and to enable users with a way to find the knowledge that they seek online. Currently, the highest quality end content is not online since the experts have no motivation to give it away.

· The C2C market: The world is changing so fast that the universities cannot keep up. It is already known that what students learn in college will become irrelevant when they graduate, while new platforms appear on a daily basis. The top 10 most in demand jobs today did not exist ten years ago.

There is no formal education that teaches you how to be a social media director or community manager. I believe that a great part of learning will focus less on the universities and more and more online. A college education is fundamental in building the foundation for your future, but people must know that a formal education is no longer enough: They must continue to evolve with technology or they will be left behind, and this is where Sparkeo steps in.

· Need of simplicity: This is a result of the former element. Because people are learning more and more once they are out of college through YouTube, podcasts, and online tutorials, they need elearning applications that match their current use of the Web. LMS, CMS or complex elearning infrastructures are not addressing those needs.

· Interactivity: I believe that users are craving for interactivity.

2. What are your core beliefs about visual learning?

I believe in the essence of visual learning. As being more visual myself, I have difficulties in making the most of audio podcasts and such.

The visual contact with the educator and learning material makes it easier to remember and to reproduce our natural learning path. Moreover, graphs, charts and images create clarity and emotions that ease the learning process. If this is true for visual learners, I believe it is also true for all learners since we all learning though our three senses.

I believe that all tools developed by elearning can actually enhance the learning experience, but they should respect the visual nature of the learning process.

The iPad, the Google Tablets and all the new digital slates deliver new means to extend visual learning and make it mobile. It is a new frontier and a fascinating one.

3. What are some of the problems with using video as an elearning element?

There are many hardships:

· Video is an art: Educational content might not need the highest end means in terms of recording, but it does need to be nicely edited. A small number of the people that have knowledge really know how to film themselves. Therefore, the result is mediocre videos that are difficult to watch.

· It is difficult to watch a video on a computer for more than 15 minutes. People lose their concentration and have short attention spans because the videos can be uncomfortable to view, and the Internet is a huge distraction with social networks and online games. On the other end we have the cellular phone. Although it is becoming increasingly more connected, it has a small screen that makes it difficult to watch video in the long run. But there are solutions: TV set top boxes and smart TVs that enable viewers to watch web videos and content on their computers directly on regular TV screens or the tablets that create a new space on which they can watch some content.

· Passivity: A video is a passive experience while the Internet is an interactive one. This is another reason why people connected to the web have little patience for video. How can we transform it into a more interactive one? We need to create a link with the content provider and make the whole video experience more social.

· Navigation: It is crucial that an educational video be easy to navigate. Where am I within the video? What chapter? What is he talking about? How do I bookmark the parts I really liked for later? It is all the more decisive, as an educational video is meant to be watched a few times. By definition, learning is a requirement. Therefore, navigation is key!

· Customization: Any tool that will help me appropriate the content in some means will bring high added value.

4. What is your favorite way to use video in an online course?
Screencasting can be efficient, especially in demoing a product. I like using webcams to connect with the audience, but think that an educational video, especially one that delves deep into its particular subject, needs to be taped at a good quality, not a webcam. Using webcams or unstable photography inhibits the user’s ability to learn because their focus is on the moving background. Taping a quality video will help eliminate the distraction problem I spoke of earlier.

5. What is your favorite way to use video in mobile learning?
I like Qik and online streaming video applications. I do watch the occasional educational video on my mobile phone, however only short video snacks. If it is something that would require a video that is longer than a few minutes long, I would much rather view it on a larger screen.

6. What is Sparkeo?
Sparkeo is a flexible video platform that enables experts, consultants, teachers, and passionate entrepreneurs to promote and sell their expertise through the creation of video courses all over the Web.

It specifically meets the needs of the experts by bringing two decisive innovations: A portable payment solution for the online sales of videos and an enhanced learning experience.

Through Sparkeo, users can create paid courses, free courses and soon invitation-only courses.
Sparkeo addresses a new phenomenon: The massive emergence of knowledge entrepreneurs.

There are all kinds of experts, educators, consultants, or simply knowledgeable amateurs who are Web savvy and have the entrepreneurial drive to make money teaching what they know and love over the Web. But they all had one problem: They did not have the right tools to do it.

7. What are the reasons for developing Sparkeo?
We want to empower the expert to maximize his or her online potential.

We want to give the expert an intuitive tool that is as simple as YouTube, but that has been specifically designed to meet his needs: Building a business out of his knowledge.

We cannot expect to see the best content on the Web if we do not provide the expert the means to make money of his knowledge. How can we expect the experts and educators to give their best insights when the revenue is so low, that they are better off using offline monetization opportunities through seminars, consulting, and such? That’s what we had in mind in creating Sparkeo, one simple goal: To bring a simple solution to a real problem: The lack of real financial incentives for experts.

Our product addresses both the most famous experts who are puzzled about the way they can bring their expertise on the Web in a way that makes sense financially, and the potential amateurs who have unique knowledge, but do not know from where to start. Our solution is free and works on a revenue sharing base. There is no need to invest in building a website or developing an application. It is totally embeddable all over the Web and can be embedded on your blog, website, and social networks.

8. How does Sparkeo make the learning process more effective?
There are three components that make the learning process more effective:

A key strategy is transforming the video from passive content to a bridge between the expert and his users.

Users can ask the experts a question directly through the video. This question is made public and everybody will be able to see it on The answer to the question will also be emailed directly to the user.

The idea is to create a means of communication and interactivity within the player. For the user, it is a dream to communicate with the expert directly. For the expert, interactivity is a decisive selling point. He does not just sell a video, but an interactive learning experience in which he can address his customers’ needs. This tool is also a very powerful way for the expert to push the engagement of his customers to new extents and enrich his course with qualified Q&A.

For our corporate clients, it opens new frontiers in terms of customer relations and internal learning.

Enhanced Navigation
The other part of the experience that we deliver, aside from interaction, is enhanced navigation: Educational content is longer the typical 3 minute video found on most video sites, and it is designed to be learned. Most educational videos on Sparkeo are between 20 minutes to 1 hour long.

Sparkeo emphasizes the need of navigation by the introduction of chapters. Like in a DVD or book, the user can skip from one chapter to another with ease. The correct organization of the information provided ensures a better understanding of the content taught.

We also created an index which makes it even simpler to go to the relevant chapter. From the side of the expert, the creation of chapters is intuitive.

Video Personalization
As in a regular lesson, article or book, the user is given the possibility to highlight the best parts of the video and annotate them. The video becomes personalized. The user can go back to a video he already viewed and see in a glance the parts of it that were most important to him and he can view his annotations.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Wifi in ElderCare: A Must for Assisted Living / Nursing Homes / Senior Centers

With improved bandwidth and availability of high-speed wifi, advances in assistive technology, lower-cost hardware (laptops, handheld devices, touch-screen monitors, etc.) and new, easy-to-use web applications, the elderly have more access to a wide array of information and services, from email to lifelong learning.

There is no reason keep the elderly isolated and out of touch from their families, no matter how far away they might be. The initial investment can be quite modest, especially if a nursing home or assisted living center takes an approach similar to ones taken by hotel business centers. They have two or three workstations, each of which is equipped for their clientele's needs, which would include the right kind of software and hardware (detailed below).

Support staff could be available during certain times of the day. There would be a time limit for work on the workstations (20 minutes, perhaps). Although many of the elderly users would have their own computers, having a small computer center would help keep everything running smoothly, and would help with individuals with vision, hearing, or mobility issues. Having a support team would also be very helpful for those residents with cognitive challenges.

*Connection to family
Everyone needs a support group, and, it goes without saying that people need people. However, the quality of the connection is often compromised in a nursing home or in assisted living where the connections between individuals are of necessity, or of commerce. Having a vital, daily connection to one's family can provide an emotional anchor for individuals who are going through a phase of life where they feel lonely, fragile, and cut off from caring alliances. Advancing into old age can be a frightening experience, and the elderly often feel the sting of prejudice and patronizing attitudes. They often appear to go into a downhill slide immediately after moving to assisted living. Is the slide real or not? Many times, what looks like a cognitive decline is, in reality, shame and fear.

*Cognitive stimulation
Not only do videos, audio, and images provide stimulation, the interaction brings another level of engagement. The major difference between retrieving information with a computer and watching it on television is the fact that computers are interactive. Numerous learning styles and strategies are accommodated through an array of computers, web applications, and information sources. Cognitive stimulation exercise for the elderly can yield very positive results.

*Connection to prior knowledge
The elderly are immensely valuable to our society, not only because of their knowledge, experience, and wisdom, but also because they show us our humanity. We have points of contact -- and often those points are through shared experiences, and also through prior knowledge. Having access to wifi and a solid computer with good web applications and reliable repositories of information can keep that prior knowledge alive through web searches, readings, and connections with friends and family. Individuals can connect prior knowledge to new experience and feel they are continuing to evolve and to grow.

*Connection to outside world
It's worth repeating. Perhaps the most immediately jolting experience for the individual who enters assisted living is the loss of a connection to the outside world. Television and radio are not true connections. If anything, television and radio reinforce the sense that the elderly individual has been marooned on a faraway planet that no one wants to visit, although people from the outside world are comfortable with transmitting sound or images to the faraway planet (!) Since radio and television do not offer the opportunity to communicate back to the source, it does not take long for the elderly residents in an assisted living center to wonder if they have become pariahs -- simply by virtue of age and diminishing physical abilities. Having an interactive connection is extremely valuable.

*Lifelong Learning / Continuing Education
Some of the most motivated learners are those who are living in assisted living or eldercare facilities. Taking courses provides connections to lived experience and prior knowledge, and stimulating the neural pathways helps individuals make connections, develop new problem-solving techniques, and to feel self-confidence. Sharing work with others, or continuing investigations into one's interests -- often memoirs, literature, history, comparative religion, science, or medicine -- develops self-esteem and a renewed sense of self-respect. Creative writing courses, and those dealing with stories (community, family, personal) are quite popular. It is also often a goal to complete a degree -- often a master's degree. At any rate, since the 1990s, the concept of "elderlearn" has been vital on college campuses. It's time to move it inside the walls of assisted living.

Essential Applications
*News feeds
*Search (google / bing / yahoo) on key words
*Online libraries / repositories of pertinent information

Essential Hardware
*Large monitor
*Touch-screen monitor
*Memory sufficient for graphics / video (RAM)
*High-capacity video card
*Desktop (rather than laptop)
*External speakers
*DVD player / recorder
*Touchscreen option
*Camera (detachable) for images / video
*Kindle reader (scalable text)
*iPad reader (scalable text)

Workstations for Visually / Hearing / Cognitively Impaired
*Hearing Impaired
High-volume, high-quality speakers

*Visually Impaired
Large print / scalable images
JAWS assistive technology (audio)
screen-readers (news / e-mail, etc.)

*Cognitively Impaired
Easy to navigate menus
Simple text, large text
Two or three dedicated applications, very easy to use

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